Toyota Hopes Innovative Pace Car Can Accelerate Hybrid Sales

By dancurranjr On April 23rd, 2009

denny-hamlin-toyota-camry-hybrid-pace-carDenny Hamlin didn’t break 110 mph Tuesday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but he still was impressed with a car whose speed pales in comparison to that of his Sprint Cup ride.

“I thought it wouldn’t take off as well as a combustion engine,” Hamlin said after about an hour making laps in a 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid that will pace the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 at the 1.5-mile oval. “The pickup was surprising; I’m amazed it takes off as good as anything.”

Acceleration was an important feature in winning approval for the vehicle, which will become the first hybrid used as a pace car for the duration of a Cup event (a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid led the field to the green flag in the 2008 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway before yielding to a 2010 Ford Fusion Sport).

From a standing start at the pit exit in Turn 1, the 187-horsepower, four-cylinder Camry (which wasn’t modified from the street model that retails for about $33,000 and gets an EPA-estimated 33 miles a gallon) had to reach 100 mph by the exit of Turn 2 to satisfy NASCAR’s standards for pacing the 600-mile event, the longest on the 36-race Cup schedule.

Ed Laukes, manager for motor sports marketing at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the approval process took about a year and included an on-track test Toyota passed with flying colors.

Hybrids have competed in the American Le Mans Series. Laukes said Toyota has interest in eventually racing them in NASCAR.

“I know it’s a ways away, but I wouldn’t be surprised down the road sometime if there’s hybrid technology in a race,” he said.

Hamlin, whose Lowe’s appearance was timed to coincide with today’s celebration of Earth Day, plans on his next personal car being a Lexus hybrid (“it’s smooth and quiet and everything I look for in a daily driver”) but would prefer to remain behind the wheel of an internal-combustion-powered car when driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“For an everyday street car, it’s not as important, but race fans still love the sounds and noise of a combustion engine,” Hamlin said. “I’d prefer a stock car in knowing how exciting it is to hear the engine roar, but I think NASCAR drivers are embracing the green outlook of hybrids.”

Toyota, which has sold more than 1 million hybrids in the USA, is hoping NASCAR fans will embrace hybrids through its marketing of the pace car, which also will appear at Infineon Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway, Watkins Glen International and Martinsville Speedway and in the Oct. 17 race at Lowe’s. The car used in the 600 will be given to a fan who finds a “golden can” of Coca-Cola Classic.

“There’s stodginess about hybrid technology among the public that we’re trying to erase,” Laukes said. “This is a way for us to demonstrate the hybrid used on the track is the exact same car you can buy at a showroom.”


Leave a Reply